December Remembrances

A Christmas Tree stands on the left of the balcony of the Opera in Timisoara. Tudor Hulubei Photography

As told by Balazs from Oradea. He was 13 years old in 1989.


“I remember very nice birthdays and christmasts – but of course as child is always good when you get gifts. We usually got toys when wa was small but later other  I remember one of my favorit gift whas a huge lot of foreign country stamps…it was great for me becouse just started to collect them and not so much chance to get other countries stamps. But also was very happy when I got a walkman for my birthday, I felt me the coolest ever to have a walkman  80s Romania 🙂 My pharents bring it from Budapest and I remember that they changed it for a spare part from inside our car, Dacia 1100 :))) Adult people offers gifts each other like shoes, socks, tigarettes, soaps and other cosmetics, electronics”stuffs like audio casettes, books.”

The following is from “In Romania, a Christmas Without Fear” by David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 12/26/1989;

From Christmas 1989


Two American reporters had been invited to eat at the home of a Romanian couple, an event that only a few days ago would have brought swift retaliation against the Romanians and a lengthy jail term.

Even now, the fear that has so long enveloped this land prevents publication of their names or the name of their English-speaking Romanian friend who shared in the meal.

But with the sudden, bloody downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s leadership, that fear has begun to crumble. Romanians for the first time in decades are beginning to speak openly again. Western correspondents are hearing firsthand the full dimensions of the horror and pettiness of totalitarian rule here.

The coincidence of the Christmas season with Ceausescu’s downfall has provided powerful symbols that have brought tears to the eyes of many in this city of 2 million.

On the balcony of the former Communist Party Central Committee building, a Christmas tree bedecked in tinsel now stands. The tree marks the exact spot from which Ceausescu issued his final speech last Thursday, the speech that was interrupted by the shouts of demonstrators–“Death, death!”–that sounded the end to the dictator’s long rule.

Until now, public displays of Christmas trees were banned as part of Ceausescu’s drive to eliminate any potential source of opposition to his reign–particularly religious symbols and ceremonies.

Even the Romanian name of Santa Claus, Mos Craciun (Old Man Christmas), was banned by law. On Monday, however, the name was on lips across the city


Two American reporters had been invited to eat at the home of a Romanian couple, an event that only a few days ago would have brought swift retaliation against the Romanians and a lengthy jail term.

Even now, the fear that has so long enveloped this land prevents publication of their names or the name of their English-speaking Romanian friend who shared in the meal.

But with the sudden, bloody downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s leadership, that fear has begun to crumble. Romanians for the first time in decades are beginning to speak openly again. Western correspondents are hearing firsthand the full dimensions of the horror and pettiness of totalitarian rule here.

“Santa Claus Will Not Be Shot,” declared a headline in the new newspaper Free Youth. The paper also carried a message from Teoctist, the Orthodox patriarch of Romania.

“Beloved children,” the patriarch wrote, “in this holiday when Christ was born the baby in Bethlehem, our thoughts and attention are drawn to the shining and fresh faces of the children and youth of Romania.”

“After many decades of official atheism,” he continued, “many years of sad and frozen Christmases, this year is the first one in which the Christian people of Romania are celebrating in freedom.”

At the home of the Romanian couple–an engineer and his wife, a doctor–the celebration was simple but the spirit warm. Eight sausages, French fries, some tinned sardines, a stew of onions and peppers, bread, wine and a few slices of cake washed down by sweet coffee provided dinner for five.

The apartment was simply furnished and sparse: three small rooms plus a kitchen to house the family. But the couple counts themselves among the lucky ones in this battered society.

“We are the exceptions, one in a thousand,” the engineer said. He noted that both he and his wife are relatively well paid and that his parents, both professionals, are in a position to guarantee them access to ever-scarce food supplies.

An average worker in this country earns roughly 2,000 lei a month–$200 at the official exchange rate, but closer to $20 on the black market. Neither food nor shelter is cheap. To obtain better-paying jobs, Romanians generally have been required to join the nation’s huge Communist Party, paying as much as 10% of their salary in party dues.

The result has been a daily life here that is a grim struggle, made worse by an ever-present fear of surveillance that only now is beginning to fade.

“You’re being watched all the time, at home, at school, at work,” said one of the men at dinner. “There is an old woman on my block–she is known to be the security agent for the street. We always close the window facing her house before turning on the radio.”

For Romanians who avoid trouble with the authorities, the ultimate reward has been a passport allowing travel and work abroad. “We could earn $10 a day working in Libya,” where many Romanians have been employed as oil field workers, said one Romanian. “You could buy some extra food, maybe a pair of shoes.”

For now, however, those difficult days have been laid aside in memory as the engineer, the doctor and their friends concentrate on the revolution unfolding in the streets and recorded on their television screens.

For the last two days, those screens have been filled with images of a holiday that the dictatorship tried to suppress but failed to eliminate.

Romanian television and radio have broadcast traditional Christmas carols long absent from public hearing but still cherished in private. The television screens have been full of pictures of decorated trees, monasteries and religious icons, and the words in Romanian that declare the message of Merry Christmas: “Craciun Fericit.”

Published by Eric Sorlien

I am 51 and live in Philadelphia USA. I traveled to Romania about 30 years ago and I remember it still.

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